If you're an American fan of European football, chances are at some point in your life you've stumbled across a well-intentioned but always cringe worthy article meant to find your ideal European club; the one that feels most familiar to you based on, say, your favorite NFL team. Maybe they have the same glorious history, the same sense of entitlement or the same checkered past. Whatever the case was, these exercises pitted two disparate sets of clubs against one another, comparing and contrasting their past, present, and future in an effort to steer you towards something familiar and relatable.
Way back in 2006, Bill Simmons did just that in his attempt to find his own Premiership club. Using metrics like American comparisons, club nicknames, kit colors/designs, celebrity fans, rivals, and even the stadium in which the club played, Simmons weeded through the whole of the Premiership before landing on Spurs, reasoning that the were big enough to give him hope yet not so big to have him labeled a “bandwagon fan.” It was an entertaining read at the time, and I suspect the American Spurs fans among us used similar logic before hitching their wagons to Harry Kane and friends.
So, what's the point of all this, you ask? Well, I'm obviously not going to stump for the Premiership in any way, shape, or form, and since you've already got a European team of choice (Roma, right?), we're not going that route. (While we're here though, check out my piece from 2013 attempting to explain Francesco Totti to American fans. It's perhaps my favorite piece I've ever done.)
Nope, we're doing the exact opposite. With the NFL season kicking off in earnest tomorrow, I thought it might be interesting to see which of the 32 Gridiron teams is our closest Roma parallel. We'll take a similarly Simmons-esque tact, focusing largely on the shared histories and frustrations of the respective clubs. We're not going uniform schemes because that would leave us with the Washington R*******, a deplorable name that continues to exist for some reason, and also I team I generally loathe due to my allegiance to the Giants.
Rather than breaking down each team, we'll lump them into four groups of eight, starting with the clubs that are least like Roma, before ultimately deciding on a best-fit club, to the extent that's possible.
A word of caution before we proceed. Given the increased level of parity in the NFL, and the structures built within the league to sustain that competitive balance, some of the historical comparisons may fall flat. Thanks to the implementation of free agency, salary caps and the structure of the draft, NFL teams can't run off a decade of titles like some European clubs can, so keep that in mind if you find fault with these groupings.
Alright, here we go!
The Least Roma Teams in the NFL
Jacksonville | Houston | Cincinnati | Tennessee | New England | Pittsburgh | Dallas | San Francisco
Hmm, a few of those things do not look like the other. We can cross the Jacksonville and Houston right off the list because they've only been around for 25 years or so, that's not history, that's barely the length of Totti's career. Gone. Cincinnati may have been named after former Roman dictator Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, but, outside of the Boomer Esiason days, they've been irrelevant through much of their existence. Ditto for the Titans, about whom I can't think of anything pithy to say. Roma may not have a full trophy cabinet, but at least they're usually in the championship conversation.
New England, Pittsburgh, Dallas and San Francisco have 22 Superbowl titles between them. That...uh...ain't Roma. So while there may be some surface similarities, those teams have been far too successful to replicate the Roma experience.
Some Slight Roma Tendencies
The teams in this tier have a few titles—the Namath Jets, the Defense-First Bucs from 2002, Cleveland's pre-merger NFL titles, and the Greatest Show on Turf St. Louis Rams—so in that respect, they mirror Roma's three league titles. However, when we look at the decades of ineptitude from the Browns, Rams, Jets, and Lions in particular, the similarities sort of end—Roma have been more competitive than any of those teams over the past few decades.
Carolina has always had a few exciting players during their day—Steve Smith, Cam Newton, Julius Peppers—but simply don't have the depth of history to satiate a Roma fan. The rabid yet perpetually disappointed fan bases in Cleveland and New York are damn close, but they've been so, so bad for so long that I can't in good conscience recommend anyone follows them, though the Browns are certainly trending upwards.
The Bucs had that one good year under Gruden in ‘02 and have made the playoffs since then, but one title doesn't offset decades of futility. Sounds like Roma, but we're not quite that desperate are we?
Hmm, You Maybe Onto Something Here
Seattle | Atlanta | New Orleans | Baltimore | Philadelphia | Kansas City | Oakland | Buffalo
There were a lot of close calls between these last two groups, but the franchises in this tier (with the exception of Buffalo, but I'll get to that) have been on the cusp of being great for the past 15 years or so (give or take) and have always featured one or more superstar players, their very own Tottis and De Rossis.
Atlanta, with their dope kits and litany of star players over the past 30 years (Andre Rison, Deion Sanders, Julio Jones, Matt Ryan) are a close comparison, as were their two Superbowl appearances, but with no rings to show for it, the comparison isn't perfect. Ditto for New Orleans. They got that one breakthrough in 2009 and Drew Brees is a pretty good comp for Totti pound for pound—insofar as he single handedly altered the course of the franchise—but the Aint's (as they were once called by jilted fans) were an absolute laughing stock for years—you can't erase that stink so easily, and once Brees retires, they figure to struggle again for a while.
Baltimore, Philly, Seattle and Kansas City follow the same plot line. The Ravens suffocating defense (Think Ray Lewis, Suggs, Saragusa, Ed Reed) and their complete lack of offense (think...uh...Kyle Boller) represents Roma's (at times) lopsided approach that, while quixotic, yielded a run of positive results. The Ravens, much like the Giallorossi, didn't scale the highest peak as much as they would have liked, but Roma's three titles bests Baltimore's two, so the similarities run just short.
Philadelphia, Kansas City and Seattle have each recently emerged form some lean years to boast some of the more exciting teams of the past decade and a half, boasting the likes of Shady McCoy, Donovan McNabb, Patrick Mahomes, Priest Holmes, Russel Wilson and Beastmode himself, Marshawn Lynch. While this array of stars has produced numerous Conference Championships, collectively these teams have only won three Superbowls since the AFL-NFL merger in the late 1960s.
Oakland is an interesting case if for no other reason than the absolutely mad fanbase. While Roma fans don't necessarily paint their faces and wear Legion of Doom style outfits to the matches, Raiders fans’ subsistence on past glory is something all Roma fans can relate to, right? The Raiders have classic kits like Roma, they've usually had at least one great player even in their darkest days, and let's face it, if Serie A clubs could relocate cities, Roma would probably have acquired a plot of land in Las Vegas by now, too. But the Raiders have been absolutely dreadful for much of the past 20 years, so I'm not sure we can call them the American Roma.
The Bills, while not the best comparison among this group, represented the most interesting case. Buffalo has been a virtual laughingstock for the past 20 years, but they do have two AFL titles to their names (similar to Roma's three ancient Scudetti) and they were (arguably) the best and most unlucky team of the 1980s and 1990s, a span in which they made the playoffs 10 times in 12 seasons, including four-straight AFC titles, one of which would have yielded a Superbowl title had Scott Norwood's last minute kick not sailed wide right.
During that span, Buffalo ran a wide-open attack (The K-Gun) led by some of the league's most exciting offensive talent—Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, and Andre Reed—and were second best so many times it became a joke, even soliciting a 30 for 30 documentary. Hell, Buffalo even engineered their own Manolas Miracle-style comeback when they beat the vaunted run-and-shoot Houston Oilers, erasing a 32-point deficit in the 1993 AFC Playoffs.
That run of second-best finishes certainly mirrors the days when Mourinho's Inter Milan kept Roma at bay, but Roma's three titles and nine Coppa Italias are just a bit more impressive than the Bills’ two AFL titles.
Close but no cigar.
So, So Close but Not Quite Right
Chicago | Denver | Miami | Green Bay | Indianapolis | Washington | Minnesota
You can take everything I just said about the Bills and simply insert Minnesota in their place—the Vikes also lost consecutive Super Bowls and have a lone NFL title—the only difference being the Vikings have been a bit more competitive in recent years, though they haven't come as close to winning it all as Roma has, so we'll cross them off this list immediately.
On aesthetics alone, Washington is an appealing choice; the color schemes are virtually identical, but the similarities run deeper than that. Roma and Washington have each had legendary players in the past. Both clubs have played, or currently play, in dilapidated stadiums, though Washington was fortunate to escape the cavernous confines of RFK stadium several years ago, and both franchises have won three league titles.
As close as these two burgundy and gold clubs may be, Washington has never had a player on par with Francesco Totti. Plus, you know, the repugnant racist name and iconography. Hard pass.
I had to lump the Miami Dolphins into this group for one simple reason: Dan Marino, a man whose career couldn't have been more Totti-esque if he'd tried. Marino was a headstrong, self assured Italian who nearly flipped the game on it's head, passing for 4,000 yards on the reg during the days when you could commit felonious assault on quarterbacks without drawing a flag. Marino led the Dolphins to the playoffs in 10 of his 17 seasons and was named to nine Pro Bowl teams while also winning the 1984 MVP. However, despite all those accolades, Marino only made it to the big game once, losing to the 49ers in Superbowl XIX. They did, however, win two titles in the early 1970s, including the undefeated run in ‘72. In the words of Larry David, this one is pretty, pretty, pretty good, but alas it still comes up wanting.
The Broncos popped up here for similar reasons, largely due to the John Elway-Totti parallels, not to mention their three Superbowl titles, but Denver just doesn't give off the same feel as the Eternal City, you know?
Green Bay and the Colts (both the Baltimore and Indy variety) are curious cases. Each club has the requisite history to appeal to Roma fans, and the Packers even have that intimate connection between the club and fans that would appeal to any European football-mad American, but their trophy cabinets are waaaaayyyyy too full to truly replicate the Roma experience. Between these two estimable teams, they've amassed 20 NFL and Superbowl titles, so while Brett Favre conjures up Totti feelings and Andrew Luck's bruised and battered resilience throughout the past nine years is reminiscent of De Rossi, these teams have simply won too much to make Roma fans feel comfortable. We like nice things, but we're not showy.
Next up are the Chicago Bears, a franchise that has existed in varying forms since the earliest days of professional football in America. The Bears, much like Roma, have a raucous fan base plagued with an inferiority complex, they spent decades playing in a baseball stadium, with Wrigley Field's awkward angles being their veritable running track, before moving to Soldier Field, and their 9-9 record in title games (both NFL and Superbowl) does leave a Roma-like after taste. They've had legendary players (Walter Payton, Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, and Gale Sayers among others), and coaches (George Halas and Mike Ditka) throughout their existence, but those nine league titles...nine...is just a bit too rich for my blood.
All of which leads us to...
The New York Football Giants: Your Gridiron Giallorossi
The Giants, my team since kindergarten, was my knee-jerk choice for several reasons, and I very nearly eliminated them for fear of being called a homer, but as I ran through this list, the comparison simply became too clear to ignore.
First there is the matter of history, and in this case, the American team is actually older. The Giants took root in 1925, two years prior to the accretion of the clubs that were forced together to create AS Roma, and have been a flagship franchise ever since, never operating under another moniker and never leaving the New York metropolitan area. Roma, for their part, have the joint second longest tenure in Serie A, competing in 87 top flight seasons since the league's inception. So, for as long as their respective leagues have existed, both Roma and New York have been front and center, barring the one time Roma was relegated following the 1950-1951 season.
Roma has Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi, Aldair, Di Bartolomei, Pruzzo and Amadei among others, while the Giants have Y.A. Tittle, Lawrence Taylor, Frank Gifford, Michael Strahan, and yes, Eli Manning (Top ten all-time in a host of categories, FYI). The Giants toiled away in a shared, archaic stadium for years, splitting rent with the Jets and the Meadowlands, only to do the same at Metlife Stadium, which is a decidedly unimpressive modern stadium, which, depending on one's view, serves as a stand-in for the Stadio della Roma (though I happen to like the designs).
Both New York and Rome are the most populated and arguably best-known cities in their respective countries, yet neither club has been as dominant as that status would suggest. The Giants may have four Superbowl titles, but they were spread out over a matter of 30 some odd years, and they've never had a Yankees-like run; there was no sustained era of dominance, and free agents (oddly) never seem to flock to the bright lights of NYC, and as a result, the Giants, much like Roma, never pace the league in wages. You'd think bringing in top players would be a cinch given their locale, but that's seldom, if ever, been the case in their near 200 years of combined existence.
And let's talk about those titles for a second. The Giants four Superbowl titles stands as the third most in league history, which, for the Superbowl, stretches back to only 1967, while Roma's three Scudetti are the 5th most among the myriad of clubs that have competed in Italy's top flight since it took its current shape in 1929. To that total, the Giants can add four NFL-only titles, which I suppose is akin to Roma's nine Coppa Italias.
But let's talk about being a bridesmaid, something with which Roma is quite familiar. In their 90+ years of existence, the Giallorossi have finished second in the league an astounding 14 times (third most in history) and have watched some else hoist the Coppa Italia an additional eight times. Total that up, and Roma have been second best 22 times...22! While the Giants have eight trophies (NFL and Superbowl), they were second best 13 times in the NFL Championship while losing Superbowl XXXV to the Ravens in 2000. Chalk that up and you have 14 runners up finishes. Roma or New York; either way, you're going to taste the sting of second place.
In the here and now, both clubs are coming off disappointing seasons, both clubs have coaches looking for their first taste of success in a larger market, and both teams have some intriguing young talent: Cengiz Ünder, Nicolo Zaniolo, Evan Engram and Saquon Barkley among others. Shit, they've both even let go of top talent in recent summers—Odell Beckham and Landon Collins for New York and, well, too many to list for Roma, and they both even alternate between two main logos: the NY and Giants script for New York and the Lupetto and Romulus/Remus badges for Roma.
Take all of that into account, and AS Roma and the New York Football Giants are one in the same.
I'm not saying you have to be a Giants fan, but if you're new to the NFL and you want to replicate the Roma experience, the New York Giants are your best bet.
Proceed with caution.